In Conversation with Rachel Tse

Melanie Wong

Art by: Rachel Tse | @racheltse_


We sat down with Rachel Tse to chat about her upcoming exhibition at Goodspace Gallery. Read on for discussion about making shit things, the everyday beauty of Hong Kong, choosing degrees, and the nuance of collaboration. Find more info about Self: A Group Show, here



VERTIGO: So, Rachel, tell us a bit about your latest exhibit with Katherine Zhang and Phoebe Barrett.


RACHEL: We did a previous exhibition together and that one was around the intoxication of image. Because we already did something about distortion, we thought that maybe we should just go in a completely different direction. It’s called ‘self’ and we have completely different interpretations of it, so I actually don’t know what they’re doing, but my one is more about the innocence of childhood, growing up, and the coming-of-age naivete – reflecting on childhood, the teenage years and adolescence, and growing up. I’m going to have some paintings and some photos of people and landscapes, but I think it’s more about capturing the experiences than the actual things.


V: Wow, that’s exciting!


R: Yeah, it is. Though I think at the moment I’ve got a bit of artist’s block because there’s so much I want to do but I can’t execute it properly, but I guess everyone goes through that. It’s okay – I work well under pressure.



V: Speaking of artist’s block, what do you do to get out of that creative rut?


R: For me, I force myself to create a lot of shit stuff – I just keep making really, really shit things until I get to a good one. I think before, when I was younger, I had all these journals and every time you start a journal or a sketchbook you want it to look really nice. But then, I realised that because you keep thinking that this has to be the perfect drawing, you never start, whereas if you make a lot of crappy ones, one of them will be good eventually.



V: Since we’re on a similar topic, where do you normally draw most of your inspiration from? How do you come up with project ideas?


R: I guess I go to galleries and exhibitions. I’m actually really inspired by sculptural artists and ceramic artists even though I don’t do any of that. I just feel like having texture and form is so important. But I guess I’m very inspired by Hong Kong as well because I grew up there. I think sometimes I have a different outlook on things coming together and how you see things because in Hong Kong, everything is packed, and everything is very squished together and you have that sense of – you need everything. There is always a lot. There’s always stuff going on and I think a lot of my art is like that too. I think I miss the quirkiness of Hong Kong. You just see underwear hanging out of a building window, people just drying their clothes. I try to find the quietness in Hong Kong as well – I think some of my pieces in this exhibition will be simpler too.



V: You’ve said that Hong Kong is a pretty big influence, is there anything or anyone else in particular that influences you as well?


R: A lot of artists and photographers, I think. When I grew up, I was really inspired by Nirrimi Firebrace. She does a lot of road trip photos – it’s all very ‘in the moment’, pretty girls reading books, very ‘Pinterest’. That was my style when I was thirteen or fourteen. Then I got more into fashion photography. I love Petra Collins – I think that’s pretty mainstream though – and there’s this guy called Greg Girard. He did these amazing documentary photos of old Hong Kong like the Kowloon Walled City, which were amazing, so I love his photography as well. But there are too many photographers whose work I love.



V: I know you’re a graphic designer but when did you start doing photography with that? Or was that always tied together?


R: I did photography first actually. I started when I was thirteen and then I started doing requested works and getting paid when I was fifteen so I think then I was like, ‘Oh, I can make some money out of this part-time or freelance’. It was later on when I was choosing courses for university that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but visual communications at UTS is quite broad – there’s graphic design and photography and illustration and a bunch of other stuff, which is good for me because I think I like seeing how all the art forms merge together. I’m in my third year now, doing visual communications.



V: How do you reckon the creative process shifts for you when you’re working in collaboration with other people as opposed to solo? I know that some creatives hate working with other people and hate butting heads with other people’s ideas.


R: Yeah, I always associate collaborative work with my fashion photography work because for that, I need a stylist and makeup artist and the model. Then I have to contact the agencies, etc. so it’s easier when it’s collaborative. Phoebe, the one I’m doing the exhibition with, she’s my stylist usually. But then, for everything else, I like doing it solo. I think that sometimes I do find it hard to merge styles with other people. For this exhibition, even though we are doing the same theme and we are collaborating, we don’t really have pieces that work together. We work on our own thing and then at the end we just chuck it all together.




V: With this latest project about innocence and the self, what do you want to convey to the audience?


R: I guess I just want people to reflect on what makes them human, what you were thinking growing up and things you experienced. I just like having quirky aesthetics to everything as well. I don’t know what I want people to get from it, actually – I feel like I would be making things up if I specified!



V: A better question might be what do you want to get out of it?


R: I think I just want to create stuff. I just want to keep having a creative drive, to create new things. I think a lot of the time I just go back to old photos and recreate them, which is another art form, but I think creating new things is fun as well and really rewarding.